ROCK HILL, S.C. -- When Gail Spears got the call from her daughter's day care center on the day after Christmas, she couldn't quite believe her ears.
"I thought, 'This is so silly,' " Spears said yesterday. "'A doll attached to her head?' "
But it didn't seem silly when Spears arrived at the Sunshine House and discovered that the doll was trying to make a meal out of 7-year-old Hanna -- one of at least five girls nationwide who have gotten more than they bargained for with the Cabbage Patch Snack Time Kid.
Hanna had asked Santa Claus for the smiling, apple-cheeked doll that chews plastic french fries and licorice sticks. On Christmas Day she named the doll Terry.
Now, a day later, Terry had chewed up a hank of Hanna's hair and showed no sign of stopping.
The doll, whose mechanical jaws begin moving automatically when an item is shoved into the mouth, has no on/off switch -- and the batteries can be removed only with a Phillips-head screwdriver.
At least four other hair-eating incidents involving Snack Time Kid dolls have been reported nationwide. All happened the day after Christmas, and all followed the same pattern: Girl gets hair in doll's mouth; doll chews its way up to scalp as parent realizes with horror that the thing can't be shut off.
In Easley, S.C., 3-year-old Carly Mize lost a chunk of her hair to the doll. Her mother, Tammy Mize, said the doll "pulled her hair completely from the root. She is completely bald for maybe a hand's-length all the way down the back of her head."
Early yesterday, one of the dolls chewed the hair of 7-year-old Amanda Gomez of New Haven, Conn. Her family told WFSB-TV that emergency workers had to take the batteries out of the doll and cut the girl's hair to free her.
The other reported incidents involved a 5-year-old girl in Dade County, Fla., and a 7-year-old girl in Griffith, Ind.
A spokeswoman for Mattel Inc., which makes the dolls, said that fewer than 10 hair-eating incidents have been reported since the dolls went on sale, at about $25 apiece, in September.
"They've been isolated incidents," said Lisa McKendall. "All of our products go through rigorous safety testing."
McKendall said she didn't know why the doll didn't have an off/on switch, "except at the time we designed it, we didn't feel it was necessary."
Pub Date: 12/29/96